Turkey’s ‘Big Sister Nimet’ lottery selling hope for 90 years
ISTANBUL – Agence France-Presse
For 90 years, the lottery booth has drawn large numbers of Turks, filled with hope in these troubled economic times, largely because it has convinced people that it is there that they have the best chance of winning.
And so the people flock to the booth, ignoring what is a growing chorus of the pious who consider gambling a sin.
Excited customers take a selfie in front of the ticket counters in Eminönü district, close to one of the most beautiful Ottoman mosques in Istanbul, Yeni Cami.
A dozen security guards form a cordon around the stall to stop queue-jumpers, redirecting them towards the end of the queue which extends for several hundreds of meters.
With a waiting time of up to three or four hours at the weekend, those wishing to buy tickets have to be patient. Fortunately for Kemal, he has plenty of it.
Nimet Abla, which means “Big Sister Nimet” in Turkish, owes its name and fortune to founder Melek Nimet Özden. A formidable businesswoman, she ruled over the lottery world for half a century, after selling her first ticket in 1928.
This year the New Year jackpot is worth 70 million Turkish Liras (around $13.2 million). One ticket costs 70 lira ($13.2), but there is also “a half-ticket” or even a “quarter of a ticket.”
In the last few days before the draw on Dec. 31, the queues begin as early as 6:00 am and last as late as 11:00 pm.
It was something the founder cultivated very early on, investing heavily in advertising.
This has allowed it to stand the test of time, unlike other Turkish lottery legends. “Ömer the Long”, “Simon the Dwarf” and “One-armed Cemal” - have all fallen by the wayside.
Similarly, Erdemir Koç, an unemployed 45-year-old, was convinced he was more likely to win there.
But not everyone has caught lottery fever.
Last year, Turkey’s religious affairs authority Diyanet issued its opinion on the lottery, saying that although it was legal, it was “haram” - illicit from an Islamic point of view, like all gambling.
The founder Melek Nimet Özden took care of her image as a pious woman, undertaking the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia several times and building a mosque in her name. But her legacy is nevertheless now a target.
Not far from the booth, on the other side of the Yeni Cami mosque, a florist, tired of having to give directions to the stall, hung a poster in front of his shop. “Don’t ask me where Nimet Abla is,” it says. “Gambling is a sin.”
“If it were up to me, I would ban all that,” he tells AFP.
But the games of chance generate a lot of revenue for the state. Last year, they brought in 1.4 billion lira ($264 million), according to the Turkish national lottery body (MPI).
Nimet Abi is aware of the criticism, even if he thinks most people don’t share those views.
He himself tries his luck each year in the New Year lottery, he says. But in any case, he adds, as he looks out at the line of impatient customers: “I already feel lucky enough as it is.”